Henry Ford and his Quadricycle

Henry Ford and the iPhone

Posted August 17, 2018
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There is an old expression that says 'necessity is the mother of invention'.  

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Inventions come along unheralded and unwanted for the most part, and when they arrive, they blaze a path of destruction that no one asked for.  Trust me, no newspaper publisher in the world ever said, 'you know what we need?  We need an Internet that is going to blow up our 150 year old business model and drive all of us out of business.'

No. Instead the Internet just appeared one day and the newspaper business had to figure out how to deal with it - they are still doing that, as are the music, TV, retail and just about everyone else.

I am reminded of this was I read ENERGY, a new book by Richard Rhodes, a teriffic writer.

Rhodes gives a very good history of 'energy', from the first wood burning fires to coal to oil and so on, and along the way, he interlaces the inventions that were byproducts of each new energy discovery - ie, the steam engine followed learning to burn coal.  

I was particuarly taken by a small factoid that I had not really comprehended until I read the book.  In 1896 (and this would be just two years before my grandmother was born), there were only 300 cars in all of America.

Think about that for a moment.  This is only slightly more than 100 years ago, and only 300 cars in all of America.  The majority of those cars were also steam (coal burning) and electric.  

Rhodes picks 1896 because that is the year that then 33-year old Henry Ford rolled out his first, entirely hand made, one of a kind, gasoline powered 'automobile'.  It was called a quadricycle, largely because it was far closer to a 4-wheeled bicycle with a tiny gas engine mounted behind the rear seat than a car.   

Ford, who had previously worked for Thomas Edison (I did not know this either), built it in his garage in his spare time. 

Two years later, there were 4,192 cars in the United States, of these 1,681 were steamers, 1,575 were electrics and only 936 were gasoline powered.

Today, there are 268 million cars in the US alone (most of them gasoline or diesel - so far at least), and well over a billion worldwide, and still growing.

That in itself is an astonishing cultural transformation in a very short period of time.  Putting aside the obvious impact on global warming, what I find interesting is the massive impact of this 'new invention' over so short a period of time.

Clearly, the automobile eviscerated the horse and buggy business, which had been a pretty stable business since the days of the Roman Empire.  It also eviscerated every business that was tied to horses being the only way to get around - these ranging from stables to farmers who sold feed (the automobile nearly wiped out many farmers who found their market vanished overnight), to the people whose job is was to clean the absolute mountains of manure that accumulated on city streets daily...

By the same token, the automobile clearly created entire new industries from motels to gas stations to parking lots to Holidy Inns to suburbia, but to name a very few.

One piece of tech transforms and entire society, and virtually overnight.

Now we come to the iPhone.

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs released the first iPhone to the world at the MacWorld Conference in San Francisco.

That one piece of tech completely over-turned the $1.72 trillion a year worldwide television and video business.  Suddenly, everyone (more than 1 billion iPhones sold so far) had in their hands the ability to shoot, edit, produce and share broadcast quality video for free (or at least for the cost of the phone).

By a simple back of the envelope calculation, your iPhone (or smartphone) today carries with it video and TV gear that would have cost you about $10 million just a decade and a bit ago.

That is nothing short of astonishing.

No one has yet really tapped into the vast potential that this army of video and TV content creators offers - but someone will. Some Henry Ford of video.

And, as with the invention of the automobile, whole mature industries will be carried away, and whole new ones created. 

Trust me. 



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